How many times do we take some time to just listen? Listen to what, you might ask. Well, anything! What you listen to depends on the context, but ask yourself that question once again: how many times do we take some time to just listen?
I know from my own experience that sometimes I can be rather bad a listening. As a teacher I’m so used to speaking a lot, to explain, to teach different topics. I work as a music teacher and that profession doesn’t seem to be common in The Gambia but here we have one at every elementary school.
The kids I teach are between 6 to 13 years old and I have 539 pupils. This means that I meet every kid at my school every week and I’m the only teacher who has that many pupils there. I teach one class at the time and one lesson is 40 to 45 minutes long. If I should split these lessons in minutes and count how much time I would have with each pupil it would be about 1 minute per lesson.
As it is not common to have music lessons in the schools of The Gambia I can tell you a little about what we do. With the younger kids we sing a lot, we play music games and some easy instruments. The kids learn a little about music theory, about pulse and rhythm and composers that write children’s music.
The older kids learn to play the guitar and the keyboard. They sing too, learn about the singing voice, more music theory, composers like Bach, Beethoven and others. I also teach them about the African and American music and in that context I of course speak about my beloved Gambia. I begin the lessons with repeating what we have done before and tell the pupils how we will continue.
After that we begin the work but with so many kids in the classroom, it is not easy to see on what level the pupils are and there is almost no time left to speak to them and listen to what they have to say.
You might protest in your mind and say that the classes in the government schools in The Gambia are so much larger and I agree. The classes are large and that is a problem. It is impossible for a teacher to give all the pupils the attention they need and to see if the kids have understood everything. It is not easy to build up a relation with the pupils and to speak with them. I wrote “with them” on purpose because it is easy to speak “to” the pupils. Have you ever considered for a moment the difference between speaking “to” your children or speaking “with” them?
If you speak “to” the kids, you tell them to stop playing football against the wall, do their homework, go and brush their teeth, and so forth. When you speak “with” your children, you show that you are interested in what they have to say and you listen to their answers. Children have a lot of wisdom if we only take time to listen to them and show that we care.
If we go back in history, until the ancient Greeks, the time when, for example, the famous philosopher Aristotle (born 384 BC) lived, they believed that every child that was born was like a blank slate. They called it tabula rasa which means blank slate and it refers to the wax tablets the Romans used to write on. When this tablet was filled with writing they heated up the wax a little and erased the writing. The tablet was blank again, waiting to be filled with words.
This idea of tabula rasa meant that every child was born without any built-in mental content and that therefore all the knowledge comes from experience or perception. This means that the child should be able to be formed only by the context it is living in and that it is like a reflection of its context. That would mean that if a child is brought up in a good context it has all the chances in the world to succeed and of course the opposite if the child is brought up in a bad context.
We all know that this is not true and we can look at two obvious examples: Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Barack Obama, the former president of USA, is the son of a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. Barack Obama had to work hard for his success and he had one clear disadvantage: he was African-American. To come that far as Barack Obama did took a lot of effort but all his hard work made him a humble man who has the greatest compassion for those who struggle.
Donald Trump, the current president of USA, was born “with a silver spoon in his mouth” which means that he came from a rich family. Donald Trump cheated his way through school and was expelled so many times from lessons that the other kids even found a nick name for it: DT:s (as in Donald Trumps). Donald Trump built an empire where his name is on every building. Donald Trump plays with his own rules, success means everything to him and he is prepared to do anything to get richer, own more properties and become more famous. He doesn’t mind normal rules and even laws. If there is something that is slightly illegal, he buys himself out of trouble. All this is possible because he is a rich white man. It would never have been possible for Barack Obama or other African-Americans to do the same.
If the idea of tabula rasa is right, then Barack Obama should have become like Donald Trump instead – a man who is prepared to even sell his own mother if he got the right price for her. Donald Trump brags about how many women he has slept with and what you can do with them if you are famous.
Donald Trump brags about his wealth but he doesn’t mention how he became wealthy. This wealth of his was at the beginning something he inherited and then, when he began to make business on his own, he didn’t follow any rules at all. With all this wealth behind him, Donald Trump is able to sue anyone who goes against him. He doesn’t have to take any responsibility for his actions because his lawyers are always able to find loopholes for him. A lot of companies and contractors went bankrupt because of Donald Trump. He refused to pay bills and because he had a lot of lawyers defending his actions, they could not do anything.
If you have seen Trump and Obama in action you might have noticed the difference in their behaviours. President Trump keeps on talking, talking, talking even if he has nothing of substance to say. He brags about himself and his achievements and he is so full of himself so there is no room for anyone else. He is not able to be silent and listen.
Barack Obama on the other hand has gone through the hard school of life and has learned that not everything is about him. Mr Obama knows how to stay silent and to listen. We have seen that in his interaction with his family, with visitors at the White House and so on. The whole Barack family are role models for others in the USA; the Trump family is a laughing stock. It was always a pleasure to see how much respect Barack Obama showed his wife. He truly loves her and appreciates her opinion. He has a great relation with his daughters and all the while they lived in the White House, they had good relations with all the staff – from house maids to secretaries of state.
Donald Trump on the other hand makes new enemies each day with his staff and other politicians. You cannot see any love and affection between President Trump and his wife Melania. Instead the relation seems frosty as ice and that is sad.
What kind of role models are the Trumps? They show that they are above everyone else; they socialise only with extremely rich people. They have no knowledge whatsoever about the hard sides of life. They are very wealthy and everything spinning around them seem to be making more money and they want to remain rich at all cost. It doesn’t seem that this Trump family understands the responsibility they have towards both the American people but also others.
To be a senior state official comes with great responsibility no matter where in the world you live. If you have any kind of power and influence you must know the importance of not only letting others hear your voice but also to listen to other people. We can change the world to a better place if we listen to each other and show each other respect, not by shouting, cursing and insulting others on social media. When you are an official person people know about you, study your movements and analyse what you are saying or are not saying.
Being silent and listening is important but that is not all. You can listen in two different ways; active and passive. In an active way you show your interest in what the other party has to say. You take in what this person is telling you, add it to facts you already know or ask questions to try to understand better or to get a clarification. Being a passive listener is when you hear the other part tell you something but you are actually not interested. You might look the other way, look at your smart phone to see if there is something more interesting on Facebook or Instagram. Or maybe you ask some questions but you don’t wait until you have got proper answers.
How does it feel not being listened to? If you speak to someone and that person hardly lifts their eye up from the computer screen or the phone? You get an “aha” or a “mmm” as a reply but you can see and hear that what you have to say is not interesting. Maybe the other party is actually interested but doesn’t show that properly. This person is not aware of the signals he is sending to you and here comes the body language I spoke a lot about earlier. By being aware of your own and other’s body language, you can read and understand the signals the person is sending you. You will also be aware of the signals you are sending to others. When someone is speaking to you, look that person in the eye and show that you are listening.
Be silent and don’t jump to conclusions, ask questions if there is something you don’t understand. You are not forced to give an immediate reply, you can be silent for some seconds to consider what you have heard and then reply. We live in a world where everything needs to be done in a haste.
Questions and answers are bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball in a game. Calm down a bit, listen in silence and give yourself time to contemplate on the answer before you give it. There are a lot to listen to; the sound of the waves, the crickets playing in the evening, the morning birds, the voice of someone you love, your own breath when you sit still for a while and speak to God. Remember that God is always online, you can speak to Him whenever you want. Listen to the words of God and let the silence heal your wounded soul. Listen and silent are spelled with the same letters. Go into a mosque when it is not praying time and sit and just be still and listen. As Mother Teresa said: “Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God.”